I had a minor epiphany this week while reading Eric Anderson’s The Monogamy Gap (review of that to come as soon as I finish it; I only have 40 pages left!).
In the jealousy chapter, he mentions the idea that people who have high self esteem experience less jealousy, or at least have an easier time managing it. All of a sudden, something *clicked* in my brain. I literally felt a cognitive shift. “I’m awesome. I’m awesome. Cool!” A lot of triggers felt more manageable instantly and feelings of jealousy (exclusion, fear, anxiety, insecurity, blah, blah, blah) diminished in the moment.
I have considered my self esteem to be higher than average for a lot of my life, and so I am not quite sure why in this particular instance I experienced such a click in my brain. But it was a positive experience, and it is helpful to have that to remember and hold onto for as long as I can. (I think perhaps some of this *click* came from all of the work I have been doing in counseling around emotional independence and autonomy, too. Not only do I think I‘m awesome, but I also allow myself the room to be awesome day-to-day and experience things and relationships that I want for myself.)
Here is the passage that gave me the *click* (I added emphasis to the parts that really resonated with me):
“But what is perceived as a personal threat will, to a large extent, be influenced by the values of one’s culture. Jealousy does not solely concern infidelity. Social-cognitive theorists (who use emotion theory) hypothesize that the same basic processes of jealousy are exemplified in multiple other (nonsexual) human relationships (parent–child relationships, friendships, etc.). Accordingly, psychologists emphasize the importance of two factors that increase the likelihood of arousing jealousy (Harris, 2003 ). The first is when relationship rewards are threatened. The second is when some aspect of a person’s self-concept is challenged by someone outside the relationship. For example, White and Mullen ( 1989) defined romantic jealousy this way:
‘Romantic jealousy is a complex of thoughts, emotions, and actions that follows loss or threat to self-esteem and/or the existence or quality of the romantic relationship. The perceived loss or threat is generated by the perception of a real or potential romantic attraction between one’s partner and a (perhaps imaginary) rival . . . ‘(p. 9).
This is not a particularly new way of examining jealousy. In (1931), Margaret Mead suggested that threats to self-esteem are at the root of jealousy. Similarly, others emphasize the importance of threats to aspects relevant to one’s self concept (Mathes, 1991), self-definition (Parrott, 1991), and self-identity (Salovey & Rothman, 1991), as underlying triggers of the experience of jealousy. It is thought that these threats are particularly salient in romantic relationships because these relationships are potentially rich sources of personal rewards (Turner, 1970; White & Mullen, 1989).
Harris ( 2003 ) suggests that there is an association between jealousy/anger and fear/sadness. When one focuses on the potential loss of a mate, sadness or fear may be elicited, whereas focusing on the sense that the rival has wronged one may elicit anger or jealousy. She says, “The extent to which one experiences jealousy over a mate sleeping with someone else will depend on appraisals for why he or she is doing so and how it reflects on one’s own self and one’s relationship rewards” (p. 122). This means that if a culture prescribes that it is appropriate for a member of a dyad to sleep with someone outside that relationship, a jealousy threat is minimized or eliminated (Wood & Eagly, 2002).” (p 131-132)